A $51 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced Friday will support quality education while attempting to bridge racial and economic divides in one of Battle Creek's largest school districts.
Kellogg Foundation President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron said a "transformational change" is needed to bolster educational outcomes within Battle Creek Public Schools, which has 4,081 students. The foundation said it has committed $51 million over five years for new programming, implementation of a STEM academy, creation of a high school career pathways program and supporting early childhood education efforts.
"I'm excited, right, about the possibilities and the opportunity to actually implement all of the strategies we know are needed to improve outcomes for kids," BCPS Superintendent Kim Carter said. "It's also important to note that this is not an operational change. We will still have to balance our budget. This is supplemental so it actually layers on support for the revenue we're receiving in a way that puts in additional supports and resources for kids."
WKKF promised "immediate and long-term investments" in March to support BCPS teachers and strengthen some of the weakest points of the district. The partnership came after about three years of the foundation's BC Vision project, which commissioned a New York University study that found racial and economic disparities between BCPS and other area school districts.
Tabron said in a ceremony Friday that the study "told us that Battle Creek Public Schools students do not have the same opportunities for a quality education."
"In fact," she said, "it revealed a disturbing pattern that we can now say could be rooted in decades of racism based on where you live and how much money your family makes."
Among the foundation's commitments are the implementation of an "innovative curriculum" for all grade levels, recruitment and retention incentives for teachers, a full-day kindergarten summer transition program, an extended pre-kindergarten school year, "enhanced" academic program supports and investments in athletics and the arts.
Also included are additional personnel for early literacy support and a "comprehensive behavior education plan" that pushes alternatives to out-of-school suspensions.
BCPS has battled years of declining enrollment that leaves the district with an almost annual budget shortfall. The graduation rate at BCPS is 69.47%, below the statewide average of 76.96%, according to mischooldata.org. Per the NYU study released this year, BCPS has the lowest scores of the city's four major districts in achieving proficiency or advanced exam scores in third and eighth grade M-STEP assessments.
Carter said the district has been developing a strategic plan for the past year anchored on best educational practices that have worked in other districts. She said the grant provides opportunities to implement best practices and programming with results she hopes are measurable as soon as next year.
"It's a whole package, but it's also about priorities," she said. "The passion part of this is the investment in early learning because we truly believe if we can get our students on grade level early, then we can maximize their success later on in their educational career."
Battle Creek Central senior Sicily McLaughlin told a room of about 200 people Friday she's had numerous opportunities to succeed at BCPS, which she attributed to the work of the district's teachers. McLaughlin, who will be attending Vassar College in the fall, said she hopes she can return as an alumna to see other students reap the benefits of the foundation's investment.
"I could not be more proud of this community than I am today as we move forward to ensure every student here has the means to make their dreams a reality," she said.
The investment comes just days after the foundation presented a $3.5 million grant to the Detroit Promise scholarship program. The program, which operates similarly to the Kalamazoo Promise, helps Detroit students attend two-year community colleges and four-year universities tuition free. WKKF also funds the Legacy Scholars program, providing scholarships to eligible BCPS and Lakeview School District students to attend Kellogg Community College.
Battle Creek Public Schools' general fund budget for 2016-17 was $50,532,107.